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  • Melanie Farquharson

Is the ISO standard for Knowledge Management useful?

The International Standards Organisation published its standard for Knowledge Management Systems in November 2018 after a period of consultation. Although knowledge management had been mentioned in the ISO standard for Quality Management Systems (ISO 9001), there had not previously been a fully-fledged KM standard before. Now that we have it, what should we do about it?

The standard does not contain anything particularly novel or controversial. Its requirements cover areas which any experienced knowledge manager would already have on their aspiration list, if not in their plan. The Standard expressly states that knowledge management is not a ‘one size fits all’ exercise. Each organisation has to evaluate its KM in the context of its business, but often it is a question of having to prioritise with the limited resources available. Areas such as knowledge review and archiving, relationships with other functions and addressing failure to deliver the required knowledge processes sometimes find themselves on the back burner.

In our engagements with professional services organisations, especially law firms, we have not seen any claiming full compliance with the standard. In the UK at least, there is as yet no accredited organisation which can audit and certify compliance with the standard. However, we think that the standard is useful in the following ways:

  • It provides additional external validation for KM as a function. In the legal sector, there are still too many law firms and Corporate Legal departments, which, despite being organisations which are based on knowledge and experience, do not take the management of that knowledge and experience seriously. The standard has some useful things to say about knowledge culture and support from the top of the organisation, which we think KM teams can usefully refer to in trying to bring about a change of attitude in their organisations.

  • It provides a useful structure against which firms can evaluate their knowledge management. In our view, achieving full and certified compliance with the standard would require a great deal of time and effort on areas which might not necessarily deliver business benefits in the short to medium term. Such areas include the detailed review and documentation requirements of the standard. These requirements could prove to be overly bureaucratic, particularly if the focus was on them rather than some of the other substantive requirements of the standard. However, careful analysis of the ISO standard and a review of the Organisation’s KM activities as against the standard can be a good way of giving a KM strategy a boost, identifying key areas to focus on, and securing the recognition and the all-important support for KM across the organisation.

At 3Kites we have developed a framework based on the ISO KM Standard to enable organisations to review their current situation and create an action plan to reinvigorate knowledge management. We would love to help you. Please contact

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